Last month our administration assistant Michelle Hughes stepped into unfamiliar territory. After a two-week holiday in Orlando, Michelle visited her second continent in as many weeks as she landed in Uganda on the 12th October. She took in the towns of Kampala, Mukono and Nakasongola on her visit to the central African country, “It was a once in a lifetime experience, one I’ll never forget” said Michelle. It wasn’t all plane sailing as she admits she was close to returning home after the first couple of days. “It wasn’t easy, I think all the traveling I had done mixed with the jet lag left me all over the place and I got a bit upset on the second day”. However, it was the opportunity to help those less fortunate than her that made her stay.
Michelle is part of the Stockton Baptist Church who have been making this trip since 2009. “My church has been visiting Uganda every two years since 2009, they’ve been planning this particular trip since April and I decided pretty much straight away that I wanted to go. It’s something I have always wanted to do, the opportunity to help out those less fortunate, especially the children.” Michelle needed to raise money to fund her trip and Biochemica stepped in to help. “We had a quiz night at the church to help raise funds for the trip and Tony kindly donated a ticket to watch the Boro match in an Executive box courtesy of Biochemica, which my Dad won”.
The money we raised was spent on setting up rainwater harvesting at SNAP school and a women’s prison in Nakasongola. Water supplies in Africa are limited and rainwater harvesting is used to accumulate and deposit rainwater for re-use rather than allowing it to run off. This provides clean water which can be used as drinking water. The first beneficiary of the rainwater harvesting, SNAP school (Seeta Nazigo Aids Project) was set up as a project to help vulnerable people and orphans in 1996, but the school was set up in 2009 with the help of Stockton Baptist Church. However, it was the women’s prison who were in desperate need of the clean water due to the inequality of women in Uganda “the men’s prison had a source of clean water but refused to share this with the women who are still seen as inferior in Uganda. The reaction was unbelievable, as you can imagine they don’t have a lot in prison, but clean water is a human right. The noise was deafening and there was lots of cheering amongst the women and men when they found out what we had done. As well as the money for rainwater harvesting we also donated a 25kg bag of raw fish, 600 blankets, soap and oil.”
Thanks to Biochemica, its employees and its customers, Michelle was able to donate a number of other items to the children she visited in Uganda, including footballs, crayons and colouring books. The books and crayons were meant to be shared out between all the schools they visited, however, as Michelle explains the plan changed, “The colouring books and crayons that were kindly donated by Biochemica were meant to be shared with all the schools we visited, however, when we visited Jehovah Jireh school they had literally nothing, it was an emotional day and there was a lot of tears behind my sunglasses. The building was like a mud hut, they had about 37 pupils, 3 teachers and 1 cook in the whole school but if it wasn’t there the children wouldn’t get an education. We made the decision to give this school all the colouring books and crayons and I can’t describe the atmosphere when we handed them over, everyone was cheering and making lots of noise”. Money was also provided for Pastor David to allow him to start building a medical clinic in Seeta Nazigo.
It’s clear from the conversation with Michelle that this trip has made a huge impact on her life, how could it not, she has spent two weeks in a country that is the total opposite to the UK helping some of the worst hit areas in terms of poverty. Michelle herself tells us that the trip has made a significant impact on her. “It’s made me realise that social media is not the be all and end all of everything. Spending time away from using it but also seeing how little they have in Uganda yet how happy the little things make them makes me realise there is more to life than social media.” With that in mind would she make the trip again? “Definitely. I’m planning on going again in two years. I went to Orlando for 2 weeks before the trip to Uganda, and Uganda was by far the best of the two trips”.
It wasn’t just the trip itself that made a huge impact on Michelle, some of the people she met made a lasting impression on her. “Pastor David who started up SNAP is someone who made a massive impact on me during my time in Uganda, hearing how he started the school and what he’d been through during his life in Africa really made a difference to my life. David wasn’t a Christian before 1996, he had not always been on the right path before a heart attack put his life into perspective. He then married, changed his faith and set up a school under a tree, funding from our church allowed him to build up the school that is SNAP.”
Chatting to Michelle, I could see she had plenty of interesting stories to tell, but which one stands out for her most? “There was a moment in the men’s prison where some of the prisoners came to help us open the boxes and they were using machetes to open them, it was quite daunting to be fair. There was also the time me and my friend had an opportunity to sing at two of the churches. The stand out moment for me though was the reactions of the women and the children when we were giving them our donations. That will stay with me forever.”
As we wrapped up the chat, Michelle placed on record her thanks for all the donations she received “I’d like to thank Biochemica, the team and our customers for the support they offered me on my trip to Uganda. Biochemica provided me with the crayons and colouring books for the school in Jehovah Jireh, they also helped raise money by offering a ticket to watch Boro in an executive box at our quiz night. All the donations we received from my colleagues and other companies were also massively appreciated”. It was a big effort from Biochemica that Michelle was clearly grateful of, but it was all worth it to see the happy smiles on the faces of everyone who benefited in Uganda.